SPARTA — The Highland girls basketball team used a full-court pressure defense to build a 34-9 lead at the break and rolled to a 59-44 win over visiting East Knox in KMAC play Wednesday night.
The duo of Madison Cecil and Brooklyn Baird combined for 20 points in the first half. Baird had five steals during that stretch to help the Scots build their lead.
“We really pride ourselves in making sure that our defense turns into offensive transition,” Cecil said. “If you look at our stats, our main points are off offensive transitions. Usually our offense is a little stagnant if it’s not off transition. So, we really pride ourselves off of defensive transition and getting them to go faster (than they want).”
Cecil buried five 3-pointers in the game and finished 20 points and three steals to lead the Scots (7-5), who won their third straight game and fifth out their last six.
“She’s a very special girl who loves the game of basketball and works extremely hard at it,” Highland coach Whitney Levering-Smith said. “It’s very well-deserved for all the success that she’s earning all of this year. The polish that she has is because of the work that she puts in in the offseason. She played soccer in the fall and she was still working on basketball. She’s always had that basketball mentality and that’s why she’s successful with it.”
Baird tallied 12 points, seven steals and three assists and Gena West also finished with 12 points and four rebounds for Highland.
“(Baird) is the head of our run-and-jump defense,” Levering-Smith said. “She comments that she’s kind of like a dog … see ball, get ball. That’s what she likes to do — she likes to chase and go get it. So, that’s the role that we put her in and she’s successful with it.”
It took the Bulldogs a half to get going without their leading scorer and rebounder, Meggan Bartok, who was out with an ankle injury.
“They had to learn how to play without her,” East Knox coach Chip Pozderac said. “The press hurt us a little bit until we settled down.”
Lauren Keith sparked East Knox’s effort with 13 points in the second half on the strength of four 3-pointers.
Keith hit a pair of long balls and Morgan McCauley added a third to help East Knox, which trailed by as much as 34 in the second half, close the gap. The Bulldogs closed within 13 on a pair of Alexandria Magers free throws with 38.6 seconds remaining in the game.
“I told our kids that somebody had to step up,” Pozderac said. “The young kids are not afraid, which I’m happy to see.”
Magers finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, Joci Totten had 10 rebounds and a pair of assists to go with six points and McCauley had eight rebounds for the Bulldogs (4-6).
Next up, both teams continue league play on the road Saturday. East Knox travels to Fredericktown with a scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. while Highland visits Cardington with a scheduled tip-off time of 7:30 p.m.
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